Was Macleans Magazine Story Racist?

By Aruna Papp

A few weeks ago Macleans Magazine published an article entitled “Too Asian?” Its authors mused over the social consequences of heavy concentrations of Asian students at the University of Toronto and UBC. Toronto Councillor Mike Layton, son of NDP leader Jack Layton, has demanded that Council condemn Macleans for racism.  Layton’s high dudgeon makes me smile because it reminds me of a well-meaning White missionary in India, where I grew up.

Was Macleans Magazine Story Racist?My father was a Pastor in the Seventh Day Adventist Church (SDA) all his working life, first in India and then in Canada. One of the pillars of the SDA movement’s doctrine is the “Health Message.” The SDA church was a pioneer in promoting healthy eating for the management of disease, establishing such world-renowned institutions as the Loma Linda School of Medical Research in California.

The health message forbids meat and the drinking of tea, coffee, and alcohol. A certain Pastor S was an enthusiastic advocate of the health message and he felt he had a personal duty to save all of us heathens.  The mission compound housing for the native workers was at the back and the White North American missionaries lived in the front among the lush gardens near the office complex. On garbage pickup days Pastor S would put on special gloves and open a garbage bag at random to check for tea leaves or meat bones. He seldom found any bones, not because the native workers were especially pious but because they could not afford meat. However, tea was a staple for most of us ethnic Indians and when Pastors S found discarded leaves he would humiliate the offender.

The native wives knowing that basic nourishment was more important giggled and teased each other about how best to fool the missionary. My mother found an ingenious way to hide her sin. She mixed the used tea leaves with the ashes from the wood burning stove. Others did the same. Some of the wives creatively sprinkled hot chili powder into the ashes as well. Merriment erupted when Pastor S. started sneezing while he snooped.

Pastor S gave thundering sermons on the benefits of following the health message.  The men who worked under him, nodded their heads enthusiastically and shouted “Amen,” and when it was their turn to preach, they repeated the exact words of the missionary in order to impress him with their deep conviction about the health message. Then, as had been their habit, and their parents’, and all their forebears’ habit before converting to SDA, they went home to have a nice hot cup of tea.  The well-meaning western health advocates, living in their luxurious homes, receiving salaries in US dollars, eating their relatively sumptuous meals, had no idea how meaningful to poor natives  a cup of tea was for enjoyment with our simple breakfast of plain rotis.

Real racism is very much alive in Canadian society, and it’s not my intention to minimize it; however, the missionary zeal of Canadian anti-racists is laughable for those who have experienced real racism in their lives. Universities today have a far greater representation of ethnic groups than they possibly ever had. They face, conversely, enormous challenges of funding, competitiveness, standards and academic freedom, to name a few. Universities don’t need interference from City Hall; journalists don’t need to have their freedoms constricted with blunt instruments.

The most blunt instrument Canadians have received from the ideology of multiculturalism is the use of the term ‘racism’.  That word had become a baseball bat to be used and abused against White people. I have seen good, hard working White people humiliated because there is no defence against such a charge.  Any attempt at a defense is likely to attract more negative attention.

It is curious that a large majority of the race accusers are people who seem to have taken on the role of Pastor S, paying inordinate attention to the small stuff while bigger issues get neglected.  They snoop for the discarded tea leaves of tiny expressions that can be interpreted as real or imagined racism, and when one looks for such things one can easily find them in just about anything that has been said or written.

Mr. Layton does not need to smell the ashes to find used tea leaves and chicken bones. But there is so much more City Council could be doing to help people in need.

Aruna Papp is author of the Frontier Centre’s study, Culturally-driven violence against women: A growing problem in Canada’s immigrant communities, available at www.fcpp.org.

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